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PLoS Genet. 2013 May;9(5):e1003472. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003472. Epub 2013 May 2.

Neuropeptides function in a homeostatic manner to modulate excitation-inhibition imbalance in C. elegans.

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Division of Biological Sciences, Section of Neurobiology, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, United States of America.


Neuropeptides play crucial roles in modulating neuronal networks, including changing intrinsic properties of neurons and synaptic efficacy. We previously reported a Caenorhabditis elegans mutant, acr-2(gf), that displays spontaneous convulsions as the result of a gain-of-function mutation in a neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit. The ACR-2 channel is expressed in the cholinergic motor neurons, and acr-2(gf) causes cholinergic overexcitation accompanied by reduced GABAergic inhibition in the locomotor circuit. Here we show that neuropeptides play a homeostatic role that compensates for this excitation-inhibition imbalance in the locomotor circuit. Loss of function in genes required for neuropeptide processing or release of dense core vesicles specifically modulate the convulsion frequency of acr-2(gf). The proprotein convertase EGL-3 is required in the cholinergic motor neurons to restrain convulsions. Electrophysiological recordings of neuromuscular junctions show that loss of egl-3 in acr-2(gf) causes a further reduction of GABAergic inhibition. We identify two neuropeptide encoding genes, flp-1 and flp-18, that together counteract the excitation-inhibition imbalance in acr-2(gf) mutants. We further find that acr-2(gf) causes an increased expression of flp-18 in the ventral cord cholinergic motor neurons and that overexpression of flp-18 reduces the convulsion of acr-2(gf) mutants. The effects of these peptides are in part mediated by two G-protein coupled receptors, NPR-1 and NPR-5. Our data suggest that the chronic overexcitation of the cholinergic motor neurons imposed by acr-2(gf) leads to an increased production of FMRFamide neuropeptides, which act to decrease the activity level of the locomotor circuit, thereby homeostatically modulating the excitation and inhibition imbalance.

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